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Local producers highlight Oregon athletics legend in new NPR Title IX special program

Celeste Noche
Jody Runge, women's basketball coach at the University of Oregon from 1993-2001, at her home in Portland, Oregon on May 24, 2022.

On June 23, 1972, Title IX banned discrimination based on sex in educational institutions. With athletics being considered an integral part of education, this federal law gave female athletes the right to equal opportunity in sports, from elementary schools to colleges and universities.

Benching The Patriarchy: 50 Years of Title IX is a special from from NPR that focuses on how Title IX played out in the women’s basketball team at the University of Oregon. The special features the reporting of former NPR correspondent Emily Harris, and Eugene-based audio journalist Ida Hardin, and tells the story of Oregon Women’s Basketball coach Jody Runge.

Runge coached the Ducks from 1993-2001. She was named Pac-10 Coach of the Year in her first season. Oregon made eight-straight NCAA Tournament appearances under Runge from 1994-2001 and won back-to-back Pac-10 championships in 1998-99 and 1999-2000. Runge finished her tenure as one of the most successful coaches in school history.

The success of her teams helped home attendance grow considerably, as the Ducks averaged nearly 6,000 fans per game in 1999-2000. A new record was set when 9,738 watched Oregon defeat No. 21 Oregon State 69-60 at McArthur Court on March 8, 1996. Runge was inducted into the University of Oregon Athletics Hall of Fame in 2021.

Celeste Noche
Jody Runge, women's basketball coach at the University of Oregon from 1993-2001, at her home in Portland, Oregon on May 24, 2022.

But Coach Runge’s success on the court tell only part of her story. She was known as a controversial figure and a fierce advocate for equality between men’s and women’s athletics at the University of Oregon. When she took the helm in 1993, Title IX had been in effect for 21 years, but things were far from equal between men’s and women’s athletic programs.

KLCC’s Love Cross sat down with Ida to learn more about Benching The Patriarchy.

Cross: You start off this special recapping Oregon basketball’s Sedona Prince’s 2021 TikTok that was pretty much seen around the world. It exposed the inequities in women’s training and practice spaces for last year’s NCAA tournaments. That video has been seen more than 12.2 million times. What kind of impact do you think something like what Sedona did has on the ongoing efforts for what Title IX was designed to do so many years ago?

Hardin: It’s interesting to see the impact that her video had and I’m so happy she put it out into the world and so happy she found support to do that, but women have been talking about inequality for years and years and years and they’ve been associated with being you know the “B” word for bringing things up. But you know, was it Muffet McGraw? She spoke about this three or four years ago, you know, it was just swept underneath the carpet. If it takes a 20-something to say it and get people to listen then, we’re super proud that happened, but this is nothing new this has been something that’s been ongoing.

Cross: Ok so let’s talk about how this is nothing new. You really focus on and tell the story of Oregon Women’s basketball coach Jody Runge. She coached the Ducks from 1993 to 2001. If you read any kind of bio about coach Runge, you learn that she led the Ducks to the NCAA tournament in each of her eight years, she had a 69% winning percentage, but her record was only part of her story, right?

Hardin: Jody Runge came in as the lowest paid coach in the Pac-10 and for the next eight years of her career she worked for equity and finding that equity for the women’s basketball team and herself.

Cross: How specifically did coach Runge take on those issues?

Hardin: Well, she did it all the way to, you know, their practice times. For getting fair practice times. When she started there, the women got the worst practice slots either really early in the morning or right in the bad part of the afternoon. So she advocated that they have an open discussion about that and it was some pushing and pulling and getting people in the room, they were able to decide that that needs to be something that’s equitable. She’s went all the way up to, you know, fighting for getting pay that is somewhat commensurate to other women basketball coaches in the Pac 10 at the time. She also fought for getting a four-year contract. When she arrived they had year-by-year contracts. The only people that were allowed multi-year contracts was the men’s football coach and the men’s basketball coach. All the other sports were one-year contracts and if you’re recruiting, that’s a really hard thing if you don’t know if your coach is going to be there. And especially if you have a coach that’s pushing the envelope, it can be detrimental.

Cross: This story is very Oregon centric because you focus on experiences specifically at Oregon, but I’m assuming that we can extrapolate that those were very similar to experiences that women across the country were having and continue to have.

Hardin: Yeah, absolutely. I mean I think this is definitely- it is unique to Oregon, but not unique. There are people that are fighting all over the place. There’s lots of parallels and lots of stories out there. This is just one of thousands.

Cross: How would you sum up what people will take away from this program?

Hardin: Well, if you’re looking for a hero story, this is not your jam, this is an anti-hero, and people aren’t perfect. And people go through obstacles and make choices and fight for things and get tired and worn out and this is really a story about a woman over eight years that pretty much fought for things and was sort of alone. Not a lot of people had the nerve to join up with her hip to hip on this. There was a strong group of women that were in town whose names are painted across buildings that were there for Jody behind the scenes. But Jody’s personality and Jody’s fight and her unwillingness to step back from her belief that women’s basketball should be seen as equal as men’s basketball, was a hard fight. Not a lot of people were there. She fought and it didn’t always turn out the best way.

You can hear Benching The Patriarchy: 50 Years of Title IX on June 12 at 11:00 a.m. on KLCC.

In the following video, Coach Jody Runge reflects on a photo captured during her tenure at University of Oregon.

Best Action Shot.mp4

Video footage courtesy of Knight Library, University of Oregon

Love Cross joined KLCC in 2017. She began her public radio career as a graduate student, serving as Morning Edition Host for Boise State Public Radio in the late 1990s. She earned her undergraduate degree in Rhetoric and Communication from University of California at Davis, and her Master’s Degree from Boise State University. In addition to her work in public radio, Love teaches college-level courses in Communication and Public Speaking.